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Unconventional Ice Cream

Watching the Freezer
By Lori Grossman

Austin is the place to be this month. Actually, if you've been there, you know it's a pleasure any time of year, but July is National Ice Cream Month. What better place to celebrate but at Amy's Ice Creams?

A love for ice cream, and for Austin, radically changed Amy Simmons' life plan. She was a pre-med student at Tufts University when she started working at an ice cream store. Amy gave up medicine, moved to Austin, and opened the first Amy's Ice Creams in 1984, just north of the University of Texas campus. Now there are twelve locations in Austin, plus one each in Houston and San Antonio. Each location offers seven standard flavors: Just Vanilla, Coffee, Belgian Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Sweet Cream, White Chocolate, and the most popular flavor, Mexican Vanilla.

You're probably wondering what's so special about Amy's. There are around 300 flavors of ice cream, which includes the standards and eight others that are rotated at each location. How about some Shiner Bock ice cream? Or maybe Chipotle Peanut Butter, Turkish Coffee, Snickerdoodle, Grasshopper Guinness, or German Chocolate Cake ice cream? Servers (called "scoops") do tricks with the ice cream. Some of them throw it under their leg, over people, or even across the street! So much for your mom's criticism about not playing with your food.

It takes more time to make your own ice cream than buy it at the neighborhood grocery store, but there's very little chance of finding these flavors there. Plus, most commercial ice cream contains artificial flavors, cellulose gum, and other assorted chemicals. You'll use fresh, pure ingredients, which is much healthier. And, you'll get to lick the paddle when your ice cream is ready (that is, if you can hide it from your kids). So, if you can't visit Amy's Ice Creams any time soon, make one of these unusual ice creams. They aren't on Amy’s list of flavors – yet.

Praline Chile Crunch Ice Cream

This one is definitely worthy of being on Amy's list. Have you ever tasted ice cream with red pepper flakes in it? If you dream of ice cream with a kick, this one's for you!
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2-1/2 cups half-and-half
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1-1/2 cups Red Pepper-Pecan Praline Crunch (recipe follows)
    • Red Pepper-Pecan Praline Crunch

      • 1 cup sugar
      • 1/2 cup water
      • 1 cup pecan halves
      • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
      Put eggs in a medium bowl and set aside. Melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over low heat. Heat until butter begins to turn golden brown and smells mildly of nuts. Add brown sugar, stirring until it melts. Stir in half-and-half and bring to a simmer. Slowly beat the hot half-and-half mixture into the eggs. Return the entire mixture to the pan and place over low heat.

      Stir constantly with a whisk or a wooden spoon until the custard thickens slightly. (Be careful not to let it boil or the eggs will scramble.) Remove from the heat and pour the hot custard through a strainer into a large, clean bowl. Allow custard to cool slightly, then stir in the cream, vanilla, and almond extract. Cover and refrigerate until cold or overnight.

      While waiting for the custard to chill, prepare the red pepper-pecan crunch. Make sure your kitchen is well-ventilated. The fumes from the red peppers can make your eyes and nose burn.

      Combine the sugar and water in a heavy medium saucepan. Place over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Continue to cook until the sugar turns light amber. Immediately remove from the heat and stir in the pecans and red pepper flakes. The hot sugar will release the red pepper oils, so be careful and keep your face away from the pan.

      Stir vigorously to coat each nut, then turn out onto a greased nonstick cookie sheet. Spread the nuts using 2 greased wooden spoons or spatulas, separating them as much as possible. When completely cool, use a heavy knife to chop the nuts into 1/4-inch pieces. Makes about 2 cups.

      When custard is chilled, stir, freeze in 1 or 2 batches in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. Add the red pepper-pecan crunch pieces to the machine when the ice cream is semi-frozen. Allow the machine to mix in the nuts. When finished, the ice cream will be soft, but ready to eat. If you want firmer ice cream, transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze at least 2 hours. You may, however, try leaving it in the freezer a little longer than that. It gives the flavors a chance to "ripen" in much the same way as when you make chili, for instance. Experiment with each batch until you find the best amount of "freezer time." Makes about 5 cups.

      One of winter's delights is a steaming mug of hot cocoa. You don't have to wait for cold weather any more – you can have the cocoa you love, minus the heat.

      Frozen Hot Cocoa

      • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process
      • 3/4 cup sugar
      • 1/8 teaspoon salt
      • 3 cups half-and-half, divided
      • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
      In a medium saucepan, combine the cocoa powder, sugar, and salt. Add 1/2 cup of the half-and-half and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the remaining 2-1/2 cups half-and-half. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is smooth (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool.

      Stir in the vanilla extract. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or as long as 3 days.

      Stir the mixture to blend. Pour into the canister of an ice cream maker. Freeze according to the manufacturer's directions. Serve immediately or transfer to a covered container and freeze up to 4 hours. Makes about 1 quart.

      Avocado Ice Cream

      Having friends over for Tex-Mex? Skip the guacamole and serve this ice cream instead.
      • 1-1/2 cups whole milk
      • 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
      • 5 large egg yolks
      • 3/4 cup sugar
      • 2 very ripe Hass avocados (about 1 pound total weight)
      • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
      • Extra avocado, cubed, for garnish (if desired)
      In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, combine the milk and 1 cup of cream. Cook over medium heat until bubbles form around the edges of the pan (about 5 minutes). Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks, sugar, and remaining 1/2 cup cream in a bowl. Whisk until smooth.

      Remove milk mixture from the heat. Gradually whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture until smooth. Pour egg mixture into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and keeping the custard at a low simmer, until it's thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and leaves a clear trail when you run a finger through it (about 4 to 6 minutes). Don't let the custard boil. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.

      Place bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice cubes and water. Stir occasionally until cool. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing directly on the custard's surface to prevent a skin forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

      Pit the avocados and scrape the flesh into a food processor. Add the chilled custard and pulse 4 or 5 times to mix. Add lime juice and pulse 1 or 2 times to blend. Scrape the avocado mixture into a non-aluminum bowl. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the custard. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.

      Pour the avocado mixture into an ice-cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours or up to 2 days, before serving. Makes about 1 quart.

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